Vegan Blood Orange Cupcakes

Now, I'm not going to pretend like you all come to this site wondering what's going on with my diet and exercise regimen. No, I'm well aware that most people come here looking for cookies. Or cupcakes. Or (YAY!) candy. I don't blame you. These things make life worth living. But recently I threw a wrench in the whole thing, what with all the posts on juice cleanses and oatmeal-y things for breakfast. And after all that overhauling, I've found that maybe dairy and I don't have the legendary love affair going that I once thought we had. So I've been watching the dairy intake. It's become like a dang commune around here! Outrageous! This must be stopped.

But guess what? It turns out I've totally got wi-fi here in my hemp tent, and I have to tell you about these cupcakes I made the other day--moist, sweet, totally scrumptious cupcakes with a cloud of creamy, dreamy frosting. Decidedly the sort of thing that you probably, actually came here for.


But really, truly, guys--these are super good. Vegan or not, I don't care as long as something tastes great. And this particular cupcake is all the things you want in a wee frosted cake. I'm not sure I've ever had a cake quite as moist, tender and positively full of citrus flavor as this one. I swear that's not the incense talking.

Inspiration for these little gems came from a little family getaway we embarked on last weekend. It was the best kind of weekend, an impromptu trip, with no real forethought or planning, just a general need to get outta town, just the three of us. We're in a sweet spot with Little C now, where we can kind of just pick up and go: no diapers, no extra gear, just an arsenal of snacks, and really, that's an essential part of a weekend trip no matter what age you are, I think. We knew we wanted to head down to Monterey, like we did more than a year (!!) ago, and visit the massive aquarium there, but other than that, no real plan. That is, until, we decided to make a pit stop in Santa Cruz on the way home, and the Twitterverse guided me to a little cupcake shop downtown called Buttercup Cakes Farm House Frostings. After that, I, for one, definitely had a plan.

I'm sorry for the lack of photos of our little trip, but the idea was to sort of unplug so I wasn't doing a lot of picture taking over the weekend. But believe me when I say that the bake shop was the kind that many people dream of opening one day: tiny, quaint, Anthropologie-esque in feel. And the flavors! So innovative. Little C chose a Raspberry-Rose confection (the pink frosting made her choice a no-brainer), which I thought she might not like because of the floral flavor, but this was a genius use of rosewater, just enough to make the whole thing taste PINK, not remind you of some old lady's perfume. The husband chose a double chocolate number with an actual chocolate truffle tucked in the center--wowza. I was inexplicably drawn to a Vegan Blood Orange Cupcake, and housed the whole delicious thing so fast that I had to go back into the shop just to simply say to the owner "Oh Mah Gah. So. Good. Really." It was really something.

I could only resist the pull the create my own version of this cupcake for two days, and really wish it hadn't even taken that long. This is a recipe I'll make again and again, for real. I'm not sure I've ever actually made a vegan cupcake before, but now I totally get the hype. With vegetable oil and a significant amount of liquid in the mix, the cake turns out unbeatably moist, almost like a lighter version of a great quickbread. And seeing as I'm kind of obsessed with blood oranges and wait all year for the good ones to roll into markets, I'm pret-ty pleased about a recipe so full of their complex, kinda-fruity-kinda-floral essence and brilliant color (no food coloring in the frosting here, people!!). And, I mean, egg and dairy-free to boot? I'm not saying I'm going to stay in this hemp tent forever, guys, I'm just saying there's a lot of seriously good food in here.

Vegan Blood Orange Cupcakes

Makes 18 frosted cupcakes

You can absolutely try regular oranges here if you can't find blood oranges, but be aware that everything will probably turn out a little sweeter, and the frosting won't have the same pink hue that you get with intensely colored blood orange juice. Also, I'd cut the zest in the batter down to 1 tablespoon--blood orange zest is a little less potent than regular orange zest, in my opinion. You'll need about 5-6 large blood oranges to get enough juice for the cakes and frosting.

I experimented with a blend of whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose here and loved the results. But you can use all of just one of the flours if you prefer. Make sure you get whole wheat pastry flour, and not regular whole wheat flour. 

 For the cakes:

1 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons grated blood orange zest

3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups freshly squeezed blood orange juice

1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the frosting:

1/2 cup (1 stick) non-dairy butter substitute (I use Earth Balance sticks)

3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1/4 cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Position oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Line 18 wells of 2 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Place the sugar in a large bowl with the zest. Use your fingertips to massage the zest into the sugar until it's moist and fragrant. Whisk in the flours, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the orange juice, oil, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and whisk until smooth--the batter will be quite thin. Divide the batter among the muffin tins (pouring the batter from a large spouted measuring cups helps), filling each well no more than three-quarters full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean and the cakes spring back when lightly touched, 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate the tins from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, place the butter substitute in a heatproof container. Microwave on high power until the stick is about half melted. Stir until the butter substitute is smooth and about the consistency of mayonnaise. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the confectioners' sugar. Beat on low speed just until the mixture begins to come together. Slowly add the blood orange juice and the vanilla. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat until the frosting is light, smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes (it will look curdled and lumpy at first, but will smooth out as it's mixed). Adjust the consistency as needed by adding more confectioners' sugar or orange juice. Frost the cooled cupcakes generously. These are great made a day ahead and stored in a tightly covered container at cool room temperature--the flavor only gets better the next day.

CakeShauna Sever